It’s tough enough to rename a 35-year-old organization once. To rename it twice in less than a year? Pass the smelling salts.
Yet that’s the painful fate that befell Elderhostel, the Boston-based travel organization for adults. Founded in 1975 and inspired by European youth hostels, Elderhostel originally offered its educational travel programs—often based on college campuses whose dorms were empty during vacations—to anyone over 60. In the 1990s, the minimum age dropped to 55. Then, in October 2009, Elderhostel made a radical announcement: Henceforth, its programs would be open to anyone over the age of 21. And those programs would be called “Exploritas,” a blend of “explore” and “veritas,” Latin for “truth.”
But save your breath on the virtues or deficits of Exploritas, because as of June 15, 2010, it’s kaput.
Instead, the organization is extending one of its program names, Road Scholar—for which it received trademark protection in 1992—to all of its “learning adventures” around the globe.
What happened? Here’s how the Elderhostel/Exploritas/Road Scholar president and CEO, James Moses, explains it on the website:
Soon after the first Exploritas publications were mailed last fall, Elderhostel was sued for trademark infringement by a commercial tour company for high school students that thought the name Exploritas was similar to theirs. Elderhostel had scrupulously followed federal law in registering the Exploritas trademark and was legally granted ownership of it by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and was shocked by the complaint. We were further surprised when it was decided in court that use of the name Exploritas created “confusion.”
Shocked and surprised they were. After all, they played by the rules, right? They registered the mark and were “legally granted ownership of it.” So why can’t they keep the name?
Because registering a trademark (which involves simply filing some forms and paying a modest fee) is not the same as performing an exhaustive search on a trademark before attempting to register it—which Moses doesn’t mention. (I have to hope that Elderhostel’s lawyers performed such a search, but the outcome suggests otherwise.)
Note that the trademark challenge came not from another Exploritas—there isn’t one, as far as I can tell—but from an organization with a similar name, Explorica. Guess what? In trademark law, as in horseshoes and hand grenades, closeness counts. A savvy trademark lawyer should have discovered the similar name (registered in the same international class as Exploritas) and raised a red flag.
James Moses is putting on a brave face about the whole affair. Here’s his explanation of the new new name:
“Road” connotes a journey and real-world experience, and “Scholar” reflects a deep appreciation for learning. Together, the words capture the heart of our program experience: learning from expert instructors enhanced by direct discovery of an idea, issue, subject or place.
Duly noted. Also noted: the resemblance to Rhodes Scholar. Let’s hope that program doesn’t raise any objections.
Here’s something peculiar I discovered while reading the Elderhostel Exploritas Road Scholar website: The terms of the legal settlement apparently included automatically replacing every mention of "Exploritas" with "Road Scholar." This has led to some unintentional—and comical—confusion. A page of reader/customer responses to the “new name”—posted back in October, when the Exploritas announcement was made—is slightly surreal:
Nothing wrong with Elderhostel, though nothing wrong with changing. But Road Scholar? Sounds Spanish and frivolous: "I think I'll take an Explorita to California. Sounds like fun."
A name with a Latin derivative makes the group sound elitist (as well as confusing). (Several posts on this site allude to the possibility of the name being Spanish to appeal to a Hispanic demographic group.) Choosing a Latinized name implies the necessity of a "high-powered" college degree in order to participate. BIG MISTAKE!!
When I first read the new name is Road Scholar, I thought it was selected mainly to attract more Hispanic participants to the program. Cultural/ethnic outreach is great, but I think a name in English would have more universal appeal.
By the way, the current logo on the website is an animation that cycles between Elderhostel and Road Scholar, keeping the same tagline—Adventures in Lifelong Learning—for both. In case you aren’t thoroughly confused yet, Elderhostel remains the name of the parent organization; Road Scholar applies only to the programs.
Thanks to Ruth Gendler for the tip.